by David Amsler
“Here, going? Here, here!” The woman says to the drive and points to the paper in her hand.
“This bus is going to Rockaway Beach!” The bus driver looks at her and answers.
The woman doesn’t seem to understand and starts to talk to the bus driver in Chinese. The bus driver looks puzzled and shakes his head. “Should I go up and help her?” I’m thinking in my mind. Then a middle aged man asks her where is she wants to go in Chinese and helps her. I turn my head to the window side and my mind runs back to the time when I first arrived in NYC.
It did not look like the place that I expected and was not like the place that I saw on TV either, but this was the place that I was going to live in from now on. For immigrants, language and customs are the most challenging things when moving to a foreign country. When moved to a new country, especially from one side of the earth to the opposite side of the earth, it feels like being abandoned by the world. It is sad, lonely and painful. They put me in GED Plus Tenzer Learning Center and wanted me to learn the language first. I was twenty-one, and I only knew the 26 alphabets and some baby words. I still remember the first day I went to school and the counselor said to us in Chinese, “Now you are like blind and deaf, but one day your eyes will open and your ear can hear. Don’t give up!” “That’s easy for you to say it!” I thought to myself.
For the first three days of school, I took the train in the wrong direction again and again. The worst thing was that I was so afraid to ask anyone. Then I figured out that if you need to go the opposite way, you need to go to the other side of the railway platform. On the same platform, trains go in the same direction unlike in Guang Zhou. The only difference is either the express train or the local train. I did not go outside if there was no school because I was afraid to have any communication with the local people. I was crying at nights for I missed my friends and my hometown so much. My mom had changed ten different jobs in the first month. My step-father would say the same thing again and again every day after he came home from work, which was “Living in here is like I am in a labor camp!” My step-brother just locked himself in his room with the computer. His daily routine was the same as it had been in China. Therefore, he didn’t sleep when everybody was sleeping. He barely went to school because he was up the whole night with his computer. He hadn’t even graduated from high school yet. I wondered what he wanted to do with his life. I wondered if this was really going to work out for us.
After three months, I made friends with a girl named Angeli in school. She had congenital heart disease and she came to the NYC for operations. She had a long scar on her left chest and other small scars on her chest and back because of surgeries and tubes. She was tall and skinny. I still think that it was God who brought us together. I have seen news about her on TV back in China, the hospital refused to treat her due to the condition that she was in since they were afraid that their reputation would go down if she died there. Her mother didn’t give up and put her in front of the hospital. It recalls my memories when she told me about things that happened in her life. She already forgot how we met, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday. That day, I had a math class and I had no idea what the teacher was talking about. Math was just not my thing. In the middle of the class she came in from the door slowly and quietly like an angel. She wore a white dress and her long silky hair fell on her shoulders reaching to her back. Then she sat down in the seat in front of me. After a while she passed down a note. On the paper she wrote: “what is your name?” That was how our friendship began. After a year and half, she dropped out of school. She was a Christian and was the one that had led me to Christ. I was thankful for her that her condition had stabilized, but she couldn’t have babies even though she loves them so much.
After two years, I heard that I could actually go straight to college since I already had a high school diploma instead of wasting time in a language school. Therefore, I entered LaGuardia Community College in the summer of 2009. My life moved forward another step, from GED program to ESL. I met more new people in that school, people from different places in China. They spoke different dialects besides mandarin. In the ESL class, students were from all kinds of countries. One of my ESL teachers was from Russia. She was a teacher in Russia and when she came to NYC, she got her teaching license again and started teaching ESL in NYC. She had a Russian accent when she spoke. However, she was a wonderful teacher. Her class was fun because besides teaching us English, she would also tell us many stories about her life. For example, her son still missed her cooking even after being married for so many years.
After another two years, I finally passed the ESL class and began taking regular classes. Then I met a girl named Anna. She came here alone when she was sixteen. She began working at a restaurant and going to school at the same time. For years she lived in a very small room with her aunt’s family but when she turned twenty-one she moved out. She told me that it was very normal for people like her to live in a space the size of a bathroom, while I could not imagine living like that. She told me that for a girl in her situation, having come here alone, the options are to either get married very soon or work really hard. There was a girl that she knew, named Kimi. One day, that girl came to Anna and asked to stay overnight in her place. Later, Anna found out that she hadn’t showered for three days due to working over time. Her feet actually stuck to the shoes that she was wearing. I felt so sad when I heard this. The main reason that most people move to the U.S. is for a better life. I couldn’t understand how someone who had come to America for a better life could be faced with such hardship. Anna’s parents were actually very rich and had their own business in China. She was a princess in her hometown, yet here, she needed to work really hard at a restaurant for a very small salary. She hasn’t seen her parents for twelve years. I wondered if she ever got homesick, but I never dared to ask.
“Xiao jie, ni zhi dao zhe li zen me qu ma?” I hear something that I am very familiar with. I realize that the bus has become much more crowed. The man is asking me for directions in Chinese. I pull out my smart phone to search his address in Google maps.